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NASA and DARPA are working on a nuclear-powered rocket that could go to Mars

The technology would also have significant national security implications

Washington Post By Christian Davenport, February 3, 2023

“……………………………………… If NASA’s going to get to Mars, it needs to find a way to get there much faster. Which is one of the reasons it said last week that it is partnering with the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on development of thermonuclear propulsion technology.

………………. DARPA, the arm of the Defense Department that seeks to develop transformative technologies, has been working on the program since 2021, when it awarded three contracts for the first phase of the program to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Blue Origin, the space company founded by Jeff Bezos. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.) A nuclear-powered rocket would use a nuclear reactor to heat propellant to extreme temperatures before shooting the fuel through a nozzle to produce thrust.

………………….. The program is called DRACO, for Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar (or in the vicinity of the moon) Operation……………………..

The agencies hope they’ll be ready to demonstrate their work with a spaceflight in 2027.

NASA is also working with the Department of Energy on a separate project to develop a nuclear power plant that could be used on the moon and perhaps one day on Mars.

But getting to Mars is exceedingly difficult, and despite claims from NASA for years that it was gearing up to send astronauts there, the agency is nowhere close to achieving that goal.

One of the main obstacles is the distance. Earth and Mars are only on the same side of the sun every 26 months. But even at their closest points, a spacecraft would have to follow an elliptical orbit around the sun that, as Tory Bruno, the CEO of the United Launch Alliance, wrote in a recent essay, will require “a great sweeping arc of around 300 million miles to arrive.”

……………………………. . The need for spacecraft that can maneuver away from the enemy has become clear during the war in Ukraine.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/02/03/nuclear-rocket-darpa-nasa/

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February 5, 2023 Posted by | space travel, USA | Leave a comment

There’s no planet B

Gathering this observation-based information is essential to counter an increasingly popular but flawed narrative that the only way to ensure our survival is to colonise other planets.

The best-case scenario for terraforming Mars leaves us with an atmosphere we are incapable of breathing

The scientific evidence is clear: the only celestial body that can support us is the one we evolved with. Here’s why

AEON, Arwen E Nicholson research fellow in physics and astronomy at the University of Exeter in the UK, Raphaëlle D Haywood senior lecturer in physics and astronomy at the University of Exeter in the UK. 3 Feb 23

At the start of the 22nd century, humanity left Earth for the stars. The enormous ecological and climatic devastation that had characterised the last 100 years had led to a world barren and inhospitable; we had used up Earth entirely. Rapid melting of ice caused the seas to rise, swallowing cities whole. Deforestation ravaged forests around the globe, causing widespread destruction and loss of life. All the while, we continued to burn the fossil fuels we knew to be poisoning us, and thus created a world no longer fit for our survival. And so we set our sights beyond Earth’s horizons to a new world, a place to begin again on a planet as yet untouched. But where are we going? What are our chances of finding the elusive planet B, an Earth-like world ready and waiting to welcome and shelter humanity from the chaos we created on the planet that brought us into being? We built powerful astronomical telescopes to search the skies for planets resembling our own, and very quickly found hundreds of Earth twins orbiting distant stars. Our home was not so unique after all. The universe is full of Earths!

This futuristic dream-like scenario is being sold to us as a real scientific possibility, with billionaires planning to move humanity to Mars in the near future. For decades, children have grown up with the daring movie adventures of intergalactic explorers and the untold habitable worlds they find. Many of the highest-grossing films are set on fictional planets, with paid advisors keeping the science ‘realistic’. At the same time, narratives of humans trying to survive on a post-apocalyptic Earth have also become mainstream.

Given all our technological advances, it’s tempting to believe we are approaching an age of interplanetary colonisation. But can we really leave Earth and all our worries behind? No. All these stories are missing what makes a planet habitable to us. What Earth-like means in astronomy textbooks and what it means to someone considering their survival prospects on a distant world are two vastly different things. We don’t just need a planet roughly the same size and temperature as Earth; we need a planet that spent billions of years evolving with us. We depend completely on the billions of other living organisms that make up Earth’s biosphere. Without them, we cannot survive. Astronomical observations and Earth’s geological record are clear: the only planet that can support us is the one we evolved with. There is no plan B. There is no planet B. Our future is here, and it doesn’t have to mean we’re doomed.


At the start of the 22nd century, humanity left Earth for the stars. The enormous ecological and climatic devastation that had characterised the last 
100 years had led to a world barren and inhospitable; we had used up Earth entirely. Rapid melting of ice caused the seas to rise, swallowing cities whole. Deforestation ravaged forests around the globe, causing widespread destruction and loss of life. All the while, we continued to burn the fossil fuels we knew to be poisoning us, and thus created a world no longer fit for our survival. And so we set our sights beyond Earth’s horizons to a new world, a place to begin again on a planet as yet untouched. But where are we going? What are our chances of finding the elusive planet B, an Earth-like world ready and waiting to welcome and shelter humanity from the chaos we created on the planet that brought us into being? We built powerful astronomical telescopes to search the skies for planets resembling our own, and very quickly found hundreds of Earth twins orbiting distant stars. Our home was not so unique after all. The universe is full of Earths!

This futuristic dream-like scenario is being sold to us as a real scientific possibility, with billionaires planning to move humanity to Mars in the near future. For decades, children have grown up with the daring movie adventures of intergalactic explorers and the untold habitable worlds they find. Many of the highest-grossing films are set on fictional planets, with paid advisors keeping the science ‘realistic’. At the same time, narratives of humans trying to survive on a post-apocalyptic Earth have also become mainstream.

Given all our technological advances, it’s tempting to believe we are approaching an age of interplanetary colonisation. But can we really leave Earth and all our worries behind? No. All these stories are missing what makes a planet habitable to us. What Earth-like means in astronomy textbooks and what it means to someone considering their survival prospects on a distant world are two vastly different things. We don’t just need a planet roughly the same size and temperature as Earth; we need a planet that spent billions of years evolving with us. We depend completely on the billions of other living organisms that make up Earth’s biosphere. Without them, we cannot survive. Astronomical observations and Earth’s geological record are clear: the only planet that can support us is the one we evolved with. There is no plan B. There is no planet B. Our future is here, and it doesn’t have to mean we’re doomed.

Deep down, we know this from instinct: we are happiest when immersed in our natural environment. There are countless examples of the healing power of spending time in nature. Numerous articles speak of the benefits of ‘forest bathing’; spending time in the woods has been scientifically shown to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and to improve sleep quality, thus nurturing both our physical and mental health. Our bodies instinctively know what we need: the thriving and unique biosphere that we have co-evolved with, that exists only here, on our home planet.

There is no planet B. These days, everyone is throwing around this catchy slogan. Most of us have seen it inscribed on an activist’s homemade placard, or heard it from a world leader. In 2014, the United Nations’ then secretary general Ban Ki-moon said: ‘There is no plan B because we do not have [a] planet B.’ The French president Emmanuel Macron echoed him in 2018 in his historical address to US Congress. There’s even a book named after it. The slogan gives strong impetus to address our planetary crisis. However, no one actually explains why there isn’t another planet we could live on, even though the evidence from Earth sciences and astronomy is clear. Gathering this observation-based information is essential to counter an increasingly popular but flawed narrative that the only way to ensure our survival is to colonise other planets.

The best-case scenario for terraforming Mars leaves us with an atmosphere we are incapable of breathing

The most common target of such speculative dreaming is our neighbour Mars. It is about half the size of Earth and receives about 40 per cent of the heat that we get from the Sun. From an astronomer’s perspective, Mars is Earth’s identical twin. And Mars has been in the news a lot lately, promoted as a possible outpost for humanity in the near future. While human-led missions to Mars seem likely in the coming decades, what are our prospects of long-term habitation on Mars? Present-day Mars is a cold, dry world with a very thin atmosphere and global dust storms that can last for weeks on end. Its average surface pressure is less than 1 per cent of Earth’s. Surviving without a pressure suit in such an environment is impossible. The dusty air mostly consists of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the surface temperature ranges from a balmy 30ºC (86ºF) in the summer, down to -140ºC (-220ºF) in the winter; these extreme temperature changes are due to the thin atmosphere on Mars.

Despite these clear challenges, proposals for terraforming Mars into a world suitable for long-term human habitation abound. Mars is further from the Sun than Earth, so it would require significantly more greenhouse gases to achieve a temperature similar to Earth’s. Thickening the atmosphere by releasing CO2 in the Martian surface is the most popular ‘solution’ to the thin atmosphere on Mars. However, every suggested method of releasing the carbon stored in Mars requires technology and resources far beyond what we are currently capable of. What’s more, a recent NASA study determined that there isn’t even enough CO2 on Mars to warm it sufficiently.

Even if we could find enough CO2, we would still be left with an atmosphere we couldn’t breathe. Earth’s atmosphere contains only 0.04 per cent CO2, and we cannot tolerate an atmosphere high in CO2. For an atmosphere with Earth’s atmospheric pressure, CO2 levels as high as 1 per cent can cause drowsiness in humans, and once we reach levels of 10 per cent CO2, we will suffocate even if there is abundant oxygen. The proposed absolute best-case scenario for terraforming Mars leaves us with an atmosphere we are incapable of breathing; and achieving it is well beyond our current technological and economic capabilities.

Instead of changing the atmosphere of Mars, a more realistic scenario might be to build habitat domes on its surface with internal conditions suitable for our survival. However, there would be a large pressure difference between the inside of the habitat and the outside atmosphere. Any breach in the habitat would rapidly lead to depressurisation as the breathable air escapes into the thin Martian atmosphere. Any humans living on Mars would have to be on constant high alert for any damage to their building structures, and suffocation would be a daily threat…………………………………………………………………………………………….

Living on a warming Earth presents many challenges. But these pale in comparison with the challenges of converting Mars, or any other planet, into a viable alternative. Scientists study Mars and other planets to better understand how Earth and life formed and evolved, and how they shape each other. We look to worlds beyond our horizons to better understand ourselves. In searching the Universe, we are not looking for an escape to our problems: Earth is our unique and only home in the cosmos. There is no planet B. https://aeon.co/essays/we-will-never-be-able-to-live-on-another-planet-heres-why

February 3, 2023 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, technology | Leave a comment

Scepticism on the enthusiastic claims about nuclear fusion

The nuclear fusion community ended 2022 with a bang, when scientists at the
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California reported that they had
created a reaction that produced more energy than it consumed.

This breakthrough, known as a fusion ignition, was hailed as a historic advance,
a critical step on the road to generating limitless clean energy by
replicating the reactions that power the sun. Following the announcement,
commentators immediately began to speculate about how close scientists are
to achieving that long-held dream.

But any claims about the start of the next clean energy revolution must be regarded skeptically. In part, this is
because when the energy-intensive lasers that produced the reaction are
also accounted for, the total energy used in the experiment was much more
than it created.

Additionally, to turn this kind of fusion reaction into an
actual power source, the same effect would have to be replicated at a much
higher frequency—more like several times a second rather than once a day.
The reality is that fusion energy is nowhere near ready for commercial use.
Nor will it be, until a successful innovation strategy for nuclear fusion
is devised.

Foreign Affairs 31st Jan 2023

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/world/long-way-nuclear-fusion

February 2, 2023 Posted by | 2 WORLD, technology | Leave a comment

GE Hitachi group announce contract for grid-scale small nuclear reactor, requiring large taxpayer subsidy .

GE Hitachi and 3 partners announce first commercial contract for grid-scale SMR in North America.Utility Dive 30 Jan 23

Dive Brief:

  • An energy and construction partnership announced Friday an agreement to build what it says will be the first grid-scale small modular reactor in North America. Terms were not disclosed.
  • GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, Ontario Power Generation, SNC-Lavalin and Aecon Group signed a contract to deploy a BWRX-300 small modular reactor at OPG’s Darlington New Nuclear Project site in Clarington, Ontario.

…………………………………….. Critics say SMRs, which are advanced nuclear reactors with a power capacity of up to 300 MW(e), according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, are financially feasible only because of large taxpayer subsidies. Detractors also say solar and wind power, which do not produce waste, can be deployed more quickly than SMRs.  https://www.utilitydive.com/news/SMRs-reactor-GE-Hitachi-Ontario-Public-Power-Aecon-Group-nuclear/641483/

January 31, 2023 Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, USA | Leave a comment

As SMR developer X-energy moves to go public, merger partner Ares cautions investors about risks

Utility Dive Stephen Singer, Editor, Jan. 27, 2023

Dive Brief:

  • The partner in a merger with a small modular nuclear reactor developer going public has cautioned investors that changing markets and a “limited operating history” may ultimately be unfavorable to the business.

  • Ares Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company, warned in an S-4 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Wednesday of “limited operating experience for reactors of this type, configuration and scale” that could lead to higher than expected construction costs, maintenance requirements, operating expenses or changes in the timing of delivery. X Energy Reactor Co. announced the merger in December.
  • The market for SMRs generating electric power and high-temperature heat is not yet established and “may not achieve the growth potential we expect or may grow more slowly than expected,” Ares said. It’s backed by private equity firm Ares Management Corp.

Dive Insight:

The S-4 filing, which provides a preliminary proxy statement and spells out details of the renamed X-Energy business and market risks, provides boilerplate cautions to investors who require transparency and discussion of as many potential risks as possible. It highlights challenges in a still-emerging industry. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Jan. 19 certified NuScale Power’s SMR design, the first of its type to win federal approval………………………………

Ares said the market for SMRs, and particularly for SMRs using advanced nuclear technologies such as those employed in the Xe-100 — an 80 MWe reactor that can be scaled into a ‘four-pack’ 320 MWe power plant — has not yet been established. SMRs using advanced nuclear technologies have not been proven at scale, it said……………………..

Ares also warned that it may not attract customers for its SMR technology — a “relatively new and unproven technology” — as quickly as it expects, “or at all,” and acquiring customers may be more expensive than it currently anticipates.

In addition, Ares said the time and funding needed to bring X-energy’s nuclear fuel, TRISO-X, to market at scale may “greatly exceed” expectations………………….

Critics of SMRs have raised issues nearly identical to what Ares cited, calling out the reactors over the projected cost and time needed for siting and other approvals.

“Small modular reactors may be viable one day, but they are not today, will not be tomorrow and may never make as much economic sense as renewable sources of electricity,” the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis says. “We should stick to carbon-free energy sources that make financial and environmental sense.”………. more https://www.utilitydive.com/news/ares-acquisition-x-energy-smr-sec-investor-warning/641337/

January 29, 2023 Posted by | business and costs, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, USA | Leave a comment

Nuclear Fusion Won’t Save the Climate But It Might Blow Up the World

the United States’ first full-scale hydrogen bomb was, in fact, a fission explosion that initiated a fusion reaction.

since first tried out in that monstrous Marshall Islands explosion, fusion has been intended as a tool of war. And sadly, so it remains,

Buried deep in the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s website, the government comes clean about what these fusion experiments at the $3.5 billion National Ignition Facility (NIF) are really all about.

above – Edward Teller – inventor of the thermonuclear fusion bomb – (a man consumed by his fear and hatred of Russia)

they require 100 times more energy to charge than the energy they ended up producing.

Resilience, By Joshua Frank, originally published by TomDispatch 23 Jan 23

.”…………………. the New York Times and CNN alerted me that morning, at stake was a new technology that could potentially solve the worst dilemma humanity faces: climate change and the desperate overheating of our planet. Net-energy-gain fusion, a long-sought-after panacea for all that’s wrong with traditional nuclear-fission energy (read: accidents, radioactive waste), had finally been achieved at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California…………………..

…All in all, the reviews for fusion were positively glowing and it seemed to make instant sense. After all, what could possibly be wrong ……………..

The Big Catch

On a very basic level, fusion is the stuff of stars. Within the Earth’s sun, hydrogen combines with helium to create heat in the form of sunlight. Inside the walls of the Livermore Lab, this natural process was imitated by blasting 192 gigantic lasers into a tube the size of a baby’s toe. Inside that cylinder sat a “hydrogen-encased diamond.” When the laser shot through the small hole, it destroyed that diamond quicker than the blink of an eye. In doing so, it created a bunch of invisible x-rays that compressed a small pellet of deuterium and tritium, which scientists refer to as “heavy hydrogen.

In a brief moment lasting less than 100 trillionths of a second, 2.05 megajoules of energy — roughly the equivalent of a pound of TNT — bombarded the hydrogen pellet,”explained New York Times reporter Kenneth Chang. “Out flowed a flood of neutron particles — the product of fusion — which carried about 3 megajoules of energy, a factor of 1.5 in energy gain.”

As with so many breakthroughs, there was a catch. First, 3 megajoules isn’t much energy. After all, it takes 360,000 megajoules to create 300 hours of light from a single 100-watt light bulb. So, Livermore’s fusion development isn’t going to electrify a single home, let alone a million homes, anytime soon. And there was another nagging issue with this little fusion creation as well: it took 300 megajoules to power up those 192 lasers. Simply put, at the moment, they require 100 times more energy to charge than the energy they ended up producing.

The reality is that fusion energy will not be viable at scale anytime within the next decade, a time frame over which carbon emissions must be reduced by 50% to avoid catastrophic warming of more than 1.5°C,  – climate expert Michael Mann

Tritium Trials and Tribulations

The secretive and heavily secured National Ignition Facility where that test took place is the size of a sprawling sports arena. It could, in fact, hold three football fields. Which makes me wonder: how much space would be needed to do fusion on a commercial scale? No good answer is yet available. Then there’s the trouble with that isotope tritium needed to help along the fusion reaction. It’s not easy to come by and costs about as much as diamonds, around $30,000 per gram. Right now, even some of the bigwigs at the Department of Defense are worried that we’re running out of usable tritium.

…………”tritium, with a half-life of 12.3 years, exists naturally only in trace amounts in the upper atmosphere, the product of cosmic ray bombardment.” – writes Daniel Clery in Science.

…………………… the reactors themselves will have to be lined with a lot of lithium, itself an expensive chemical element at $71 a kilogram (copper, by contrast, is around $9.44 a kilogram), to allow the process to work correctly.

Then there’s also a commonly repeated misstatement that fusion doesn’t create significant radioactive waste, a haunting reality for the world’s current fleet of nuclear plants. True, plutonium, which can be used as fuel in atomic weapons, isn’t a natural byproduct of fusion, but tritium is the radioactive form of hydrogen. Its little isotopes are great at permeating metals and finding ways to escape tight enclosures. Obviously, this will pose a significant problem for those who want to continuously breed tritium in a fusion reactor. It also presents a concern for people worried about radioactivity making its way out of such facilities and into the environment.

Cancer is the main risk from humans ingesting tritium. When tritium decays it spits out a low-energy electron (roughly 18,000 electron volts) that escapes and slams into DNA, a ribosome, or some other biologically important molecule,” David Biello explains in Scientific American. “And, unlike other radionuclides, tritium is usually part of water, so it ends up in all parts of the body and therefore can, in theory, promote any kind of cancer. But that also helps reduce the risk: any tritiated water is typically excreted in less than a month.”

If that sounds problematic, that’s because it is. This country’s above-ground atomic bomb testing in the 1950s and 1960s was responsible for most of the man-made tritium that’s lingering in the environment. And it will be at least 2046, 84 years after the last American atmospheric nuclear detonation in Nevada, before tritium there will no longer pose a problem for the area.

Of course, tritium also escapes from our existing nuclear reactors and is routinely found near such facilities where it occurs “naturally” during the fission process. In fact, after Illinois farmers discovered their wells had been contaminated by the nearby Braidwood nuclear plant, they successfully sued the site’s operator Exelon, which, in 2005, was caught discharging 6.2 million gallons of tritium-laden water into the soil.

In the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) allows the industry to monitor for tritium releases at nuclear sites; the industry is politely asked to alert the NRC in a “timely manner” if tritium is either intentionally or accidentally released. But a June 2011 report issued by the Government Accountability Office cast doubt on the NRC’s archaic system for assessing tritium discharges, suggesting that it’s anything but effective. (“Absent such an assessment, we continue to believe that NRC has no assurance that the Groundwater Protection Initiative will lead to prompt detection of underground piping system leaks as nuclear power plants age.”)

Consider all of this a way of saying that, if the NRC isn’t doing an adequate job of monitoring tritium leaks already occurring with regularity at the country’s nuclear plants, how the heck will it do a better job of tracking the stuff at fusion plants in the future? And as I suggest in my new book, Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America, the NRC is plain awful at just about everything it does.


Instruments of Death

All of that got me wondering: if tritium, vital for the fusion process, is radioactive, and if they aren’t going to be operating those lasers in time to put the brakes on climate change, what’s really going on here?

Maybe some clues lie (as is so often the case) in history. The initial idea for a fusion reaction was proposed by English physicist Arthur Eddington in 1920. More than 30 years later, on November 1, 1952, the first full-scale U.S. test of a thermonuclear device, “Operation Ivy,” took place in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean. It yielded a mushroom-cloud explosion from a fusion reaction equivalent in its power to 10.4 Megatons of TNT. That was 450 times more powerful than the atomic bomb the U.S. had dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki only seven years earlier to end World War II. It created an underwater crater 6,240 feet wide and 164 feet deep…………….

Nicknamed “Ivy Mike,” the bomb was a Teller-Ulam thermonuclear device, named after its creators Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam. It was also the United States’ first full-scale hydrogen bomb, an altogether different beast than the two awful nukes dropped on Japan in August 1945. Those bombs utilized fission in their cores to create massive explosions. But Ivy Mike gave a little insight into what was still possible for future weapons of annihilation.

The details of how the Teller-Ulam device works are still classified, but historian of science Alex Wellerstein explained the concept well in the New Yorker:

“The basic idea is, as far as we know, as follows. Take a fission weapon — call it the primary. Take a capsule of fusionable material, cover it with depleted uranium, and call it the secondary. Take both the primary and the secondary and put them inside a radiation case — a box made of very heavy materials. When the primary detonates, radiation flows out of it, filling the case with X rays. This process, which is known as radiation implosion, will, through one mechanism or another… compress the secondary to very high densities, inaugurating fusion reactions on a large scale. These fusion reactions will, in turn, let off neutrons of such a high energy that they can make the normally inert depleted uranium of the secondary’s casing undergo fission.”

Got it? Ivy Mike was, in fact, a fission explosion that initiated a fusion reaction. But ultimately, the science of how those instruments of death work isn’t all that important. The takeaway here is that, since first tried out in that monstrous Marshall Islands explosion, fusion has been intended as a tool of war. And sadly, so it remains, despite all the publicity about its possible use some distant day in relation to climate change. In truth, any fusion breakthroughs are potentially of critical importance not as a remedy for our warming climate but for a future apocalyptic world of war.

Despite all the fantastic media publicity, that’s how the U.S. government has always seen it and that’s why the latest fusion test to create “energy” was executed in the utmost secrecy at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. One thing should be taken for granted: the American government is interested not in using fusion technology to power the energy grid, but in using it to further strengthen this country’s already massive arsenal of atomic weapons.

Consider it an irony, under the circumstances, but in its announcement about the success at Livermore — though this obviously wasn’t what made the headlines — the Department of Energy didn’t skirt around the issue of gains for future atomic weaponry. Jill Hruby, the department’s undersecretary for nuclear security, admitted that, in achieving a fusion ignition, researchers had “opened a new chapter in NNSA’s science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program.” (NNSA stands for the National Nuclear Security Administration.) That “chapter” Hruby was bragging about has a lot more to do with “modernizing” the country’s nuclear weapons capabilities than with using laser fusion to end our reliance on fossil fuels.

“Had we not pursued the hydrogen bomb,” Edward Teller once said, “there is a very real threat that we would now all be speaking Russian. I have no regrets.” Some attitudes die hard.

Buried deep in the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s website, the government comes clean about what these fusion experiments at the $3.5 billion National Ignition Facility (NIF) are really all about:

NIF’s high energy density and inertial confinement fusion experiments, coupled with the increasingly sophisticated simulations available from some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, increase our understanding of weapon physics, including the properties and survivability of weapons-relevant materials… The high rigor and multidisciplinary nature of NIF experiments play a key role in attracting, training, testing, and retaining new generations of skilled stockpile stewards who will continue the mission to protect America into the future.”

Yes, despite all the media attention to climate change, this is a rare yet intentional admission, surely meant to frighten officials in China and Russia. It leaves little doubt about what this fusion breakthrough means. It’s not about creating future clean energy and never has been. It’s about “protecting” the world’s greatest capitalist superpower. Competitors beware.

Sadly, fusion won’t save the Arctic from melting, but if we don’t put a stop to it, that breakthrough technology could someday melt us all.  https://www.resilience.org/stories/2023-01-26/nuclear-fusion-wont-save-the-climate-but-it-might-blow-up-the-world/

January 28, 2023 Posted by | Reference, technology, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Nuclear-powered rockets to Mars – there are serious safety risks.

No one wants to see nuclear debris raining down on the Florida coast or Disneyland, and that’s not the only possible scenario.

An accident in orbit could potentially drop radioactive material into the atmosphere.

Nuclear powered rockets could take us to Mars, but will the public accept them?

Bob McDonald’s blog: NASA and DARPA are beginning development of a new fission rocket, Bob McDonald · CBC Radio · Jan 27, 2023 

NASA has signed an agreement with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a nuclear rocket that could shorten travel time to Mars by about one quarter compared to traditional chemical rockets. But before nuclear technology is launched into space, there are risks that need to be addressed to ensure public safety…………………….

While the technology of nuclear propulsion is certainly feasible, it may not be readily embraced by the public. The accidents at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima have left many people skeptical about nuclear safety. And there will be risk.

A nuclear rocket wouldn’t be used to launch a spacecraft from the Earth’s surface — it would be designed to run in space only. It would have to launch into orbit on a large chemical rocket — so the public would have to accept the risk of launching a nuclear reactor on a standard rocket filled with explosive fuel.

And rockets have and will malfunction catastrophically, in what with black humour rocket scientists sometimes call RUD — “rapid unscheduled disassembly.”

No one wants to see nuclear debris raining down on the Florida coast or Disneyland, and that’s not the only possible scenario. An accident in orbit could potentially drop radioactive material into the atmosphere.

Nuclear technology in another form has been used since the very beginning of the space program, just not for propulsion. Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) have provided power to deep space probes for instruments, radios and cameras on a range of missions…………………….

 The U.S. has seen several accidents, including one in 1968 when a launch failure of a Nimbus-1 weather satellite threw its RTG into the ocean. It was recovered intact and the fuel was reused on a later mission.

But there have been more serious accidents. Canadians may remember an incident from 1978, when a Soviet reconnaissance satellite scattered 50 kg of uranium from its nuclear thermal generator over 124,000 square kilometres of Canada’s North.

But a fission reactor is a much more complicated device involving higher temperatures, coolants and more nuclear fuel.

……………………. the engineers face a challenge to ensure that all checks and balances have been made to reassure the astronauts who will fly these machines — and people on the ground — that they can be operated safely before the technology is adopted. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks/nuclear-powered-rockets-could-take-us-to-mars-but-will-the-public-accept-them-1.6727217

January 28, 2023 Posted by | 2 WORLD, space travel, wastes | Leave a comment

Rolls Royce wants to make sure that the tax-payer cops the cost of their small nuclear reactor folly

Rolls-Royce calls on government for more clarity on nuclear.  https://www.energylivenews.com/2023/01/26/rolls-royce-calls-on-government-for-more-clarity-on-nuclear/

Executives of the engineering giant have cited Britishvolt as an example of a company which committed to a factory without having orders.

Dimitris Mavrokefalidis

Rolls-Royce has urged the government to provide more clear vision of its target to roll out 24GW of nuclear power generation by 2050.

During a session at the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee, asked when Rolls-Royce will start the process of building its first Small Modular Reactor factory, Alastair Evans, Director of Corporate and Government Affairs at Rolls-Royce SMR, said: “If you look at the Britishvolt example, that is an example of a company that committed to a factory without orders. We don’t have clarity on orders in the UK.

“So, as soon as we have that clarity that the UK Government wants to deploy Rolls-Royce SMRs, we will be able to get the first factory moving, but our shareholders need that clarity. Britishvolt is a very good example of where you try and run a business and build a factory and get things moving without that certainty, orders and customers.”

A few days ago, company representatives visited the first four sites which have the potential to host 15GW of new nuclear power capacity.

Mr Evans confirmed that once Rolls-Royce receives the green light from the government, then the whole process around the development of its first SMR facility will accelerate.

He said: “That was the purpose of doing our planning processes, getting the selection of our heavy pressure vessel sites – we’ve got 600 people in the Rolls-Royce SMR business today. So we are set up to deliver at pace. We are 600 UK-based workers looking at manufacturing, assembly, lead skills, and module concept. We are ready to go.” 

January 28, 2023 Posted by | business and costs, politics, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, UK | Leave a comment

NASA partners with the military to test nuclear fission-powered spacecraft engine by 2027

The technological advancement has long been seen as critical to long-haul missions, including a manned trip to Mars.

Aljazeera 24 Jan 2023

The top official at the United States space agency NASA has said the country plans to test a spacecraft engine powered with nuclear fission by 2027, an advancement seen as key to long-haul missions including a manned journey to Mars.

NASA will partner with the US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop the nuclear thermal propulsion engine and launch it into space, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said on Tuesday. The project has been named the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations or DRACO……………………..

Under the NASA-DARPA agreement, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate will lead technical development of the nuclear thermal engine, which will eventually be integrated with an experimental spacecraft created by the military.

The agency said the last US nuclear thermal rocket engine tests were discontinued in the 1970s… https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/1/24/nasa-to-test-nuclear-fission-powered-spacecraft-engine-by-2027

January 27, 2023 Posted by | space travel, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Former DEA Nuclear Security Official Says Wyoming Reactor Not Safe

the sodium reactor planned for Kemmerer has a high degree of potential for explosive accidents and proliferation of nuclear weapons material.

Sodium reacts with water and air, which Tallen said poses a huge risk for accidents.

Cowboy State Daily, By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com  January 25, 2023January 25, 2023 

When TerraPower and PacifiCorp announced in November 2021 that they had selected Kemmerer as the location of its Natrium reactor demonstration project, many welcomed the opportunity as a path to a diverse energy economy for Wyoming.  

In the next few months, TerraPower plans to break ground on a sodium testing project for the larger demonstration project. If the reactor design is proven, it would provide lots of carbon-free energy and provide a viable replacement for retiring coal plants in the state, TerraPower said. 

Wapiti resident Bill Tallen had a 20-year career with the Department of Energy that was focused on the threat posed by terrorists who sought ways to create improvised nuclear devices.

Tallen argues that the sodium reactor planned for Kemmerer has a high degree of potential for explosive accidents and proliferation of nuclear weapons material. Henry Sokoloski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC), which is based in Washington D.C., has a lot of the same concerns.  

Jeff Navin, director of external affairs with TerraPower, says these concerns have been considered and addressed as much as reasonably possible in the project’s design and development.  

Not Opposed To Nuclear 

Tallen said he’s not ideologically opposed to nuclear power. He said he rubbed elbows with that crowd years ago, but it’s not where he stands today.  

“The distrust of nuclear power is one of the major ideological tenets of left-wing, anti-establishment politics,” Tallen said. “I had to say to them, I can’t agree with you on many of your basic assumptions. I’m just saying that this particular [Natrium] technology pursued the way it is right now – I don’t think it’s a good idea.”  

Reaction Risk  

The Natrium reactor being built in Kemmerer uses sodium instead of water as a heat sink for the reactor core. That heat will then be transferred to water, which will produce steam to turn turbines.  

Sodium reacts with water and air, which Tallen said poses a huge risk for accidents.  

“There’s never been a sodium reactor that has actually met its promises. They’ve all had leaks and fires and explosions and toxic releases,” Tallen said. “Granted, in America we haven’t had big problems, but the past is not always prologue. The risk is still there.”  ……………………

Plutonium And Proliferation 

Sokolski with NPEC said these reactors produce plutonium during the fission process.  

“The plutonium produced in these machines isn’t just weapons usable. It isn’t even weapons grade. It’s super weapons grade,” Sokolski said.  

The Natrium reactors run on high-assay low-enriched uranium, known commonly as HALEU. It’s currently produced only in Russia, and due to the invasion of Ukraine, supplies of the material are scarce. This has led to a delay in the Kemmerer project.   

Tallen said that as these reactors grow and more HALEU is produced, it’s just inviting a nation like Iran to find sources of the material, which can be enriched to weapons-grade with the right facilities.  

“These are parties that do in fact have, or can construct, enrichment capabilities and will not be concerned by U.S. export restrictions,” Tallen said.  ………………………..  https://cowboystatedaily.com/2023/01/25/former-dea-nuclear-security-official-says-wyoming-reactor-not-safe/

January 25, 2023 Posted by | safety, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, USA | Leave a comment

New NASA Nuclear Rocket Plan Aims to Get to Mars in Just 45 Days

Science Alert23 January 2023, By MATT WILLIAMS, “…………………………. A few years ago, NASA reignited its nuclear program for the purpose of developing bimodal nuclear propulsion – a two-part system consisting of an NTP and NEP element – that could enable transits to Mars in 100 days.

As part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program for 2023, NASA selected a nuclear concept for Phase I development. This new class of bimodal nuclear propulsion system uses a “wave rotor topping cycle” and could reduce transit times to Mars to just 45 days………………………….

Nuclear-Electric Propulsion (NEP), on the other hand, relies on a nuclear reactor to provide electricity to a Hall-Effect thruster (ion engine), which generates an electromagnetic field that ionizes and accelerates an inert gas (like xenon) to create thrust. Attempts to develop this technology include NASA’s Nuclear Systems Initiative (NSI) Project Prometheus (2003 to 2005)………………………………………..

A transit of 45 days (six and a half weeks) would reduce the overall mission time to months instead of years. This would significantly reduce the major risks associated with missions to Mars, including radiation exposure, the time spent in microgravity, and related health concerns.

In addition to propulsion, there are proposals for new reactor designs that would provide a steady power supply for long-duration surface missions where solar and wind power are not always available………….. more https://www.sciencealert.com/new-nasa-nuclear-rocket-plan-aims-to-get-to-mars-in-just-45-days

January 24, 2023 Posted by | space travel, USA | 1 Comment

Canadian MP Charlie Angus Questions the Claims of SMRs (Small Modular Reactors)

Proponents of SMRs are on a major spin campaign. None of them have been approved for licensing. The Toronto Star calls them a “boutique boondoggle”. The IPCC raises serious questions about the dangers of nuclear proliferation. Chris Keefer is their big proponent. Here is the exchange at the Natural Resources Committee.


  “Proponents of SMRs are on a major spin campaign. None of them have
been approved for licensing. The Toronto Star calls them a “boutique
boondoggle”. The IPCC raises serious questions about the dangers of
nuclear proliferation.”

January 23, 2023 Posted by | Canada, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors | Leave a comment

U.S. approves design for NuScale small modular nuclear reactor, but significant problems remain.

By Timothy Gardner WASHINGTON, Jan 20 (Reuters) – The U.S. nuclear power regulator has certified the design for the NuScale Power Corp’s (SMR.N) small modular reactor, the first such approval in the country for the next generation technology.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval, published in the Federal Register late on Thursday, clears a hurdle for NuScale. The company plans to build a demonstration small modular reactor (SMR) power plant at the Idaho National Laboratory. NuScale says the six-reactor, 462 megawatt Carbon Free Power Project will be fully running in 2030.

There are significant questions about rising costs of the demonstration plant, expected to provide electricity to the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS). NuScale said this month the target price for power from the plant is $89 per megawatt hour, up 53% from the previous estimate of $58 per MWh.

Backers of next generation reactors including President Joe Biden’s administration and many Republican lawmakers, say they are crucial in curbing climate change. NuScale says they will be safer than today’s far larger conventional reactors, but the reactors, like conventional nuclear plants, are expected to produce highly toxic waste, for which no permanent fix has been developed.

The U.S. Department of Energy has provided more than $600 million since 2014 to support the design, licensing and siting of NuScale’s power plant and other small modular reactors. NuScale and other companies that succeed in building next generation reactors could receive for the first time lucrative production tax credits contained in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act signed by Biden……………..

NuScale also hopes to build SMRs in Romania, Kazakhstan and Poland, despite concerns from nuclear safety experts who say Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and occupation of the Zaporizhzhia plant should make the industry think seriously about developing plants in the region.  https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/us-approves-design-nuscale-small-modular-nuclear-reactor-2023-01-20/

January 21, 2023 Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, USA | Leave a comment

A bit of panic in the UK small nuclear reactor lobby?

‘No regrets?”

Quite a lot of people have regrets about the introduction of nuclear power.

And that’s even when the reactor types have been tested.

The new gee-whiz nuclear reactors haven’t even been tested.

Pipeline of ‘no-regrets’ new nuclear schemes needs ‘expediting

New Civil Engineer16 JAN, 2023 BY ROB HORGAN

A pipeline of “no-regrets” new nuclear schemes must be fast-tracked if the UK is to meet its net zero carbon emission targets, according to an independent [how independent?] review set up to assess the UK’s decarbonisation plans.

It is one of 129 recommendations made by former energy minister Chris Skidmore in his government-ordered net zero review titled Mission Zero.

The report calls for the formation of Great British Nuclear (GBN) to be “expedited in early 2023” so that a “clear roadmap” of future schemes can be developed this year to tackle “rising power demand”.

The government first announced its intention to set up GBN to develop a project pipeline in its British Energy Security Strategy published in April last year.

Skidmore concludes that speeding up the formation of GBN will address industry concerns about a “lack of clarity on the pathway” to achieving the UK government’s ambition for nuclear energy to provide a quarter of power consumed within the country. (Nuclear energy currently supplies 15% of the UK’s power needs.)

The review concludes: “Building new nuclear is a no-regrets option, despite high upfront costs and long construction times”……………….

Pipeline of ‘no-regrets’ new nuclear schemes needs ‘expediting’

16 JAN, 2023 BY ROB HORGAN

A pipeline of “no-regrets” new nuclear schemes must be fast-tracked if the UK is to meet its net zero carbon emission targets, according to an independent review set up to assess the UK’s decarbonisation plans.

It is one of 129 recommendations made by former energy minister Chris Skidmore in his government-ordered net zero review titled Mission Zero.

The report calls for the formation of Great British Nuclear (GBN) to be “expedited in early 2023” so that a “clear roadmap” of future schemes can be developed this year to tackle “rising power demand”.

The government first announced its intention to set up GBN to develop a project pipeline in its British Energy Security Strategy published in April last year.

Skidmore concludes that speeding up the formation of GBN will address industry concerns about a “lack of clarity on the pathway” to achieving the UK government’s ambition for nuclear energy to provide a quarter of power consumed within the country. (Nuclear energy currently supplies 15% of the UK’s power needs.)

The review concludes: “Building new nuclear is a no-regrets option, despite high upfront costs and long construction times.

“In view of rising power demand, nuclear energy can provide reliable baseload power which is not weather dependent and can provide other services to power networks.”

It adds: “To achieve affordability and efficiency, the Government needs to commit to funding a fleet of projects. Recognising the start times for new build nuclear, a clear roadmap for nuclear deployment up to 2035 is required.”

The government is currently committed to building Sizewell C, while construction of Hinkley Point C continues to gather pace. Ambitions to develop a fleet of small nuclear reactors has also been widely supported by government in the past few years.

Skidmore’s review concludes that as well as delivering a pipeline of projects, the government must act to remove barriers to its nuclear ambitions.

It identifies “the main barrier for new nuclear projects is the need for stable, long-term policy and funding commitments given the long timeframes involved in the building of nuclear plants”.

It also points out that “rapid expansion of nuclear power could lead to some bottlenecks in supply chains and skills pools”.

However, the report stresses that “understanding the timings of different projects” would allow “any supply chain and skills pinch points [to] be identified early, allowing for coordinated action to prevent bottlenecks”.

The review also concludes that streamlining planning and consenting decisions would “ensure nuclear projects are not unnecessarily delayed”. Likewise, Skidmore’s review calls for the lengthy protocols required for innovations like SMRs to be accelerated.

National Infrastructure Commission chair Sir John Armitt supports Skidmore’s calls for clarity and accelerated action.

He said: “Chris Skidmore’s clarity in his call for accelerated action is as compelling as it is commendable, nailing the argument that inaction now will cost us all in the long run.

“Given the economic opportunities offered by leading the pack internationally, securing policy and funding stability over the coming years is paramount.”

Nuclear energy recommendations made in Skidmore’s net zero review:

  1. Expedite the set-up of Great British Nuclear in early 2023, ensuring required funding and skills are in place.
  2. Government and GBN to set out clear roadmap in 2023, including interim targets to reach 2050 ambition, and government to ensure funding is in place. As part of the roadmap, government should assess the possibility to increase the current ambitions, supporting the development of supply chain to service a fleet of projects.
  3. Roadmap to set out clear pathways for different nuclear technologies (including small modular reactors) and the selection process. This should consider how to use programmatic approach to deliver further cost reductions in a competitive environment.
  4. Government to deliver on siting strategy by 2024

https://www.newcivilengineer.com/latest/pipeline-of-no-regrets-new-nuclear-schemes-needs-expediting-16-01-2023/

January 17, 2023 Posted by | politics, technology, UK | Leave a comment

Huge cost for Japanese tax-payers to clean up the botched nuclear waste storage at Tokai reprocessing plant

Righting shoddy nuclear waste storage site to cost Japan 36 bil. yen

 https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2023/01/a53b75be634e-righting-shoddy-nuclear-waste-storage-site-to-cost-japan-36-bil-yen.html – 16 Jan 23, The Japan Atomic Energy Agency estimates that it will cost taxpayers 36.1 billion yen ($280 million) to rectify the shoddy storage of radioactive waste in a storage pool at the Tokai Reprocessing Plant, the nation’s first facility for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, an official said Sunday.

Around 800 containers of transuranic radioactive waste, or “TRU waste,” were dropped into the pool from 1977 to 1991 using a wire in the now-disused plant in Tokai, a village in Ibaraki Prefecture northeast of Tokyo. They emit high levels of radiation.

The waste includes pieces of metal cladding tubes that contained spent nuclear fuel, generated during the reprocessing process. The containers are ultimately supposed to be buried more than 300 meters below surface.

The agency has estimated that 19.1 billion yen will be needed to build a new storage facility for the containers, and 17 billion yen for a building that will cover the storage pool and the crane equipment to grab containers.

The 794 containers each are about 80 centimeters in diameter, 90 cm tall and weigh about 1 ton, with many lying on their sides or overturned in the pool. Some have had their shape altered by the impact of being dropped.

The containers were found stored in the improper manner in the 1990s. While the agency said the storage is secure from earthquakes and tsunamis, it has nonetheless decided to improve the situation.

The extractions have been delayed by about 10 years from the original plan and are expected to begin in the mid-2030s.

The Tokai Reprocessing Plant was the nation’s first plant that reprocessed spent fuel from nuclear reactors to recover uranium and plutonium. Between 1977 and 2007, about 1,140 tons of fuel were reprocessed. The plant’s dismantlement was decided in 2014 and is expected to take about 70 years at a cost of 1 trillion yen.

January 15, 2023 Posted by | Japan, space travel, wastes | Leave a comment